The Commerce Department reported(.pdf) that U.S. retail sales rose for the first time in three months, up 0.3 percent in February after downwardly revised declines of 0.3 percent in December and 0.6 percent in January. Revisions to data for prior months totaled -0.4 percentage points, making the February improvement a bit less than what meets the eye.
Bad winter weather was once again cited as a key factor in this report and it is unlikely that there will be a clear picture of the underlying health of this component of consumer spending in the U.S. until late in the spring, after the expected bounce-back from the steepest retail sales decline in two years.
Gains were broad-based as nine of the 13 major categories saw higher sales. Excluding motor vehicles, sales rose 0.3 percent after dropping 0.3 percent in January and receipts were also 0.3 percent higher when excluding both autos and gasoline, a big improvement from the 0.5 percent decline for this group the month before.
February sales gains were paced by increased buying at sporting goods, hobby, book & music stores (+2.5%), health & personal care stores (+1.2%), and nonstore (online) retailers (+1.2%), all of the categories perhaps benefiting from the harsh winter weather (think boots, cold remedies, and shopping at home).
Sales declines included miscellaneous store retailers (-0.9%), general merchandise (-0.3%), and both electronics and grocery stores (-0.2%).